19 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Professional Poker Player (Part 1)

David Pomroy, Bear Hug Poker

I can say from experience that playing online poker for a living provides a great amount of freedom and if you’re able to do it successfully, is one of the most fulfilling careers out there. However, the general skill level of online poker play is getting higher every year and if you’re thinking of making full-time play your occupation, then there are certain questions you should ask yourself first. Over the next few months, I’ll be putting these questions out there, and using my own experience to attempt to answer them. When answering these questions for yourself, one question that should always be first in your mind is…

Can I be Honest Enough with Myself?

Specifically, how honest with yourself are you? Self-delusion is something which affects people in all walks of life, but in poker it can be particularly costly. Poker players often have the habit of rationalizing their own mistakes and convincing themselves that their losses are purely down to bad luck. This tendency is not at all productive, and in fact will only serve to hinder your progress as a player. Imagine two players – on who blames every loss on bad luck and who assumes his game doesn’t need much work; and another player who strives to constantly locate and fix any leaks in his game which may be holding him back. Which player do you think will be the most profitable by the end of the year?I’ve seen countless professional players get stuck at a particular buy-in level because rather than look at their game objectively and try to improve it, they just assume that the reason they don’t fare better at the higher levels is because they run poorly and are unlucky every time they take a shot. A more likely reason is that the standard of play at the higher level is better or differs in some way to what they are used to. Blaming everything on bad luck is a lot easier than accepting that you need to put more time into studying. That’s also not to say that once you get to a certain level you can just relax. Poker constantly evolves, and if you are always honest and looking to improve your own game, then you have a greater chance of being on the cusp of that evolutionary process, rather than constantly chasing it and integrating changes to your game 6 months (and possibly thousands of dollars) after everyone else has. It’s the difference between taking a proactive approach to the game and a reactive one.

People in general are insecure, and blaming losses on something other than themselves can be comforting. If you’re going to play poker full-time then it helps to be able to look at your own game with absolute objectivity and be honest with yourself when study away from the table is called for and there are fixes to be made.

What Are My Responsibilities In Life?

Unfortunately, not everyone’s life is set-up in a way which makes it easy to play poker full-time. The 9-to-5 world wasn’t designed with poker players in mind, and trying to convince a partner at home or those close to you that playing poker full-time won’t interfere with those relationships can be difficult. Cash game players have it easier as online cash games take place around the clock. In 8 years as a full-time cash game player I was able to make my poker schedule fit around the needs of my life outside of poker. That being said, if you’re relying on tournament play for a living, then you are at the mercy of the online tournament schedules. Sunday, which happens to be the day that most of the world is winding down, is the most important day for an online tournament player. Even if you decide that you can skip Sunday play, you will be forced to play in the evenings during the rest of the week.  If you’re young and single, then this isn’t a huge issue, but it can be difficult to find a balance as you get older. I was lucky in that most of my friends had unconventional jobs and my house-mate did shift-work, but even then, getting your online poker schedule to integrate smoothly with the schedule of your social circle can be tricky.  If you’re considering playing poker full-time, be honest with yourself about this issue and appreciate the kind of hours you will have to “work” to be successful.

Another huge factor when taking the leap is simply how much money you need to make to live in reasonable comfort each month. If you’re living at home with parents and don’t have many fixed expenses, then you won’t have too many problems during the inevitable lean months. However, if you have a mortgage or rent to pay and a family to support then you may run into problems.  Even if you are adequately bank-rolled, having major financial responsibilities in life can put undue pressure on your game. Poker works best when you are able to disassociate the value of the money you have in game from that which is necessary to meet life’s obligations. Knowing that you need to earn “X” amount each month before you have even paid your bills can put pressure on your in-game decision making ability and ultimately be detrimental to your game and profitability.

In my opinion, there is a good reason why Scandinavian players have always been regarded as some of the most fearless and aggressive players out there, and it has nothing to do with their genes. Most Scandinavian countries have a social welfare safety-net which means as a citizen of Scandinavia, it is very hard to ever be completely broke. I lived there for two years and have personal experience where this is concerned.  If you run into trouble, the government will support you (and rather well compared to other countries!). This has its advantages for poker players as it means they can be truly fearless with their bankrolls, and this can translate well in their results. For the rest of us, it’s a case of balancing risk and reward on a daily basis, and at the risk of openly plugging our business (!) – playing a stake with Bear Hug can provide a beneficial bridge to navigating your personal risk-reward challenges and finding your way to financial stability.

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